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Study: Voting Precincts with More Black Voters Have Longer Wait Times Because of Fewer Machines, Workers

In yet another indictment of the systemic racism African-Americans must battle on a daily basis, a new report suggests that voting precincts with more Black voters experience longer wait times to cast ballots because they are allotted fewer machines and fewer poll workers.

The findings by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law come at a particularly sensitive time, as many experts across the nation predict that Democrats will lose control of the Senate unless African-Americans turn out to vote in larger-than-usual numbers for a midterm election. In states like Georgia and North Carolina, an increase of just 2 or 3 percent in the Black turnout could mean the difference between Democratic or Republican victory.

At a recent voter registration rally in Georgia, first lady Michelle Obama pointed out that if just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in the 2010 midterms came out in November, it could change the Georgia Senate seat from Republican to Democratic, as it would mean candidate Michelle Nunn was victorious.

But one of the most time-honored ways of keeping African-Americans and others from voting in big numbers is by allowing long queues at the polling place, thus forcing busy potential voters to turn away.

After the media reported long lines in many districts in the 2012 midterms, President Barack Obama last year convened a bipartisan commission to address the problem of long lines and determine best practices for local election officials. The commission found that 10 million people waited longer than half an hour to vote in 2012.

The commission recommended that officials allocate resources so that no voter has to wait more than 30 minutes, but the Brennan Center has concluded that just five weeks before the midterm elections there is no evidence that policymakers have done anything to prevent long lines from recurring.

For the purposes of the report, the Brennan Center studied Maryland, South Carolina and Florida — the states where voters faced some of the longest lines in the country. While the center points out that it couldn’t conclude that any jurisdiction or person intentionally discriminated against any group of voters, the findings were clear that Blacks and also Latinos suffered because of the paucity of resources in their districts.

The study had four major findings:

Voters in precincts with more minorities experienced longer waits.

Voters in precincts with higher percentages of minority voters tended to have fewer machines.

Precincts with the longest lines had fewer machines, poll workers, or both.

There is widespread noncompliance with existing state requirements setting resource allocation.

The Brennan Center report found that both Maryland and South Carolina set certain requirements for what polling places are supposed to provide voters, but just 25 percent of the precincts studied in South Carolina and 11 percent of the precincts in Maryland complied with these requirements. 

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